It is your baby that starts off the breastfeeding process with its appetite. Babies have a strong sucking reflex for the first few days, particularly on the second and third day after birth. Then your milk starts flowing. Your breasts feel engorged and the milk may overflow. But don't worry; your milk production will soon stabilise.
While breastfeeding has many benefits, it is usually harder than most people expect and is often painful to start with. It usually takes two to three weeks for your breasts and milk production to stabilise. Here you can read more about having too much or too little breast milk. But it can also take much longer for your breastfeeding routine to really stabilise. If you still can't get the breastfeeding to work, or if you really don't want to try at all, bottle feeding is a good alternative.
Colostrum – a cocktail of nutrients
If you hold a newborn baby to the breast, it will soon find the nipple of its own accord. It can take some time, but it will find the nipple in the end because its sucking instinct is so strong.
Already by the end of pregnancy, your breasts will have produced their first, thick milk, which is known as colostrum. Colostrum is fatty and extremely nutritious. It also contains antibodies which protect the baby from infections during the first months. Colostrum gives the baby precious nutrition during the first 24 hours. It is produced in very small quantities, but has a special composition that meets the baby's nutritional needs until you milk production really gets going.
The baby feels secure next to your heart
Hold your newborn against your chest as soon as possible after birth. Your baby wants to be close to you, skin to skin. It can recognises your heartbeat from its time in the womb. Your smell and your embrace feel warm and cosy, like the womb environment. In your arms, the baby hears your familiar voice and gets the food it needs. So it's hardly surprising that the baby still prefers to be held in your arms when it gets a little older, regardless of whether it is bottle fed or breastfed.
Breastfeeding techniques and common problems
Of course, it is hard to know what the right breastfeeding technique looks and feels like when you are a beginner. Consult your midwife or the staff at the maternity clinic or maternity ward. Ask them to check that the baby is positioned correctly at your breast and gets a good grip from the beginning. You can also watch our short video with practical breastfeeding tips.
The shape and size of the breasts and nipples make no difference at all to the breastfeeding process. The milk production gradually adapts to the baby's needs. It's quite ingenious. If the baby sucks a lot, the body produces more milk. If the baby sucks less, the milk production decreases. It takes a couple of days before the milk supply has been fully adjusted, but it usually happens naturally. Other common problems are tender lumps caused by blocked milk ducts, which can lead to mastitis, and sore and cracked nipples when you start breastfeeding.
Sit comfortably during breastfeeding so you can relax
Sit or lie in a comfortable position while breastfeeding so you don't have to hunch or tense your shoulders or neck to get your baby positioned correctly. This can easily lead to neck or shoulder pain. You might try using a breastfeeding pillow or an ordinary pillow or a rolled up blanket on your knee to get into the right position. Experiment until you find positions that suit you and your baby. It's useful to be able to breastfeed either lying down or sitting, in order to vary your position and give you some rest.
Further reading: How often and how long should I breastfeed my baby? or our article about sleeping together and night time breastfeeding.
The milk ejection reflex – it's automatic
The milk starts flowing after your baby has sucked for a while. You might feel a numb, tingling or shooting feeling in your breast when it happens. The milk may drip or spray out. When the baby sucks, impulses are sent to your brain and two breastfeeding hormones are released. The reflex that starts the breast milk flowing is called the milk ejection reflex. It normally starts after your baby has been sucking on the nipple for a while. Some women don't notice the milk ejection reflex. Others feel it and start leaking milk from their breasts as soon as they hear their baby crying.
The left breast often leaks when you breastfeed on the right side and vice versa.
The benefits of breastfeeding
Breast milk contains fatty acids and proteins that are essential to your baby's cell and tissue development. Breast milk is easy for your baby to digest. Moreover, it gives the baby vital antibodies against infections. There is also some scientific evidence that breast milk helps protect against allergies and chronic diseases.
In addition to its health benefits, breastfeeding is also practical. You carry your milk wherever you go. It never goes off, it's always the right temperature, and it's free.
Stress can disrupt the start of the milk flow
It is important to get help and support right from the beginning. Ask your partner or others around you for help and lower your home tidiness standards for the moment. Read more about how you, the partner, can help with breastfeeding.
It has been proved that the flow of breast milk is disrupted if the mother is stressed or tense around the time of breastfeeding. In addition, breastfeeding often makes the mother extra thirsty. Put a glass of water within reach before settling down to breastfeed. Try not to let your environment disturb you – remember this is your baby's special time just with you.
Breastfeeding is so much more than just food. It is also about getting to know each other. It promotes well-being, security and bonding.
Also read dietary advice for breastfeeding mother.
Do you have twins? This can make breastfeeding even more of a challenge. It will probably take some practice, but hopefully you'll soon have everything running smoothly. Ask your midwife and the nurses for advice before leaving the hospital.
Start by breastfeeding your babies one at a time. This lets you get to know both babies, their feeding habits and their way of latching onto the breast. Although your babies are similar, they are individuals and may have very different needs.
It's good for the baby to change sides occasionally since the milk flow can vary between the two breasts.
If you want to try breastfeeding both babies at once, position one baby on your breast at a time and adjust positions until you find what's best for you and the babies.
Parents with twins can get tips about breastfeeding positions and much more from the Swedish Association of Lactation Consultants.
Get help if you're struggling
Be kind to yourself. Breastfeeding takes time and patience, especially at the beginning. Nobody expects you to be an expert.
If you are having problems breastfeeding, there are many sources of help available. Start by asking a nurse at the maternity clinic for advice. Many hospitals have a breastfeeding centre, or can refer you to one.
If you need more help, you can contact the Swedish Association of Lactation Consultants 24 hours a day. Their website has a list of lactation consultants and their contact numbers. The Swedish Association of Lactation Consultants offers anonymous, free advice from experienced mothers.